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Search and Recover 4 - Undelete Documents, Music, and Photos

written by: Jeremy Rule•edited by: Rebecca Scudder•updated: 6/12/2009

Search and Recover 4 from iola easily covers data forensics, accidental deletes, or help desk work. Use Search and Recover 4 on your hard drives, media player or camera. It even works on DVD-RW and CD-RW discs. What a handy tool to have ready for an IT department or even for personal use.

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    Search and Recover 4 by iola is software that you might think you will never need. Recovery software is usually something you don't know you need until you really need it , and then you really need it. I vividly remember the first time I needed to "undelete" something. I was just learning to program and after hours of work, compiled the program then deleted the source. That was not even a rookie mistake. That was just stupid. Thankfully, before I gave up programming for the rest of my life, my dad came to the rescue. He had a DOS 3.3 tool that would look for deleted files and was able to recover my source code.

    It's been a while since I looked at recovery software but after spending a few hours with iola Search and Recover 4, I was really impressed. Search and Recover 4 doesn't resemble the DOS 3.3 tool my dad used but it will save the day by finding lost files.

    Windows has a file system called NTFS that, like any modern file system, doesn't actually erase files when you delete them but marks them as deleted so the drive space can be available for other uses. If the file system were to truly erase a file from the disk when it was deleted, it would need to overwrite that disk space with blank data. While that's entirely possible to do, it would just make your machine run slower because overwriting each byte of data takes longer than just marking it as deleted.

    When you run Search and Recover 4, it will look through the raw contents of the hard drive to see what is a candidate for recovery. It is possible that other programs have started using the newly freed space to store data, so your odds of recovering a file are best if you try to recover it right after it's been deleted. If you wait too long on an active system, there's a good chance the files will not be recoverable. Search and Recover 4 will indicate the likelihood of a recovery with high, medium, or low.


    When you delete a file in Windows, the directory structure is still somewhat maintained. If you delete the whole folder, then Windows leaves the deleted data in an Orphaned Files directory until they are overwritten by something else. In Search and Recover 4, you will see these files in directories called $$$Orphaned files$$$. Files deleted in folders that still exist will show up in their normal folders.[orphans.jpg]

    Probably the nicest feature of Search and Recover 4 is the SmartScan technology. (As a side note, iolo and about 50 other companies, including G.E., claim to have a trademark on the term SmartScan.) SmartScan will filter out files that you probably don't want to recover. These are system temporary files and other data files that will probably have no use once you recover them. I was able to filter my results from about 5000 down to 1000 using SmartScan.


    Another great feature is the preview mode. Once you have your recovery candidates, you can filter the results by pictures or documents or movies and then turn on a preview. You might be dealing with a few thousand recovery candidates so this mode will really help you find the specific files you want.


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    Price to Value

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    At $40 you have a really solid tool for recovering deleted files. Whether you are using this at home for occasional undeletes, as part of a help desk operation to support users or something even more exciting like data forensics, Search and Recover 4 provides $40 worth of value.

    What's Not:&nbsp

    There are a few freeware undelete programs out there but you pretty much get what you pay for. Something that works so close to the metal, like defragmenters and undelete software, I prefer the commercial options.

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    Installation & Setup

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    iola Search and Recover 4 installs and runs well on Windows XP, Windows Vista 32-bit, and Windows Vista 64-bit. There was minimal impact on the system with no tray icons and a small footprint when it ran. There is an option to check for updates and patch the software whenever you run it which was nice since they do keep the software patched.

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    Help & Support

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    Search and Recover 4 worked as advertised in every way. Therefore I didn't need to contact iola support. I did spend some time looking through their online knowledge base to understand features better.

    What's Not:&nbsp

    When you buy $40 retail-grade software, there is only so much personal support you can expect. That is why I am such a big fan of user forums. iolo would do well to add forums so their user community could be self supporting.

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    Recovering Email

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    Search and Recover 4 can inspect the data file for popular email clients including Outlook, Mozilla Thunderbird, Netscape, and Qualcomm Eurodra. The data files for those email programs are similar to a file system with simulated directories and files so Search and Recover 4 can use the same technology it would use on a hard drive to look for deleted messages and calendar items in your email.

    What's Not:&nbsp

    No support for Outlook OST files means I can't use this particular feature. Outlook can store your email in both PST files (Personal Folders file) and OST files (Offline Folder file). If you use Outlook on a large corporate network, there's a good chance you will be using an OST file and thus the Email Recovery feature will not work for you.

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    Recovering Camera Photos

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    One neat feature of Search and Recover 4 is the ability to look at an attached camera and find photos that were deleted on the memory card. Of course the same rule applies: if the memory was overwritten with other pictures, you won't be able to recover them. I went ahead and plugged my Nikon D200 camera in via USB and turned Search and Recover 4 loose on it. Sure enough, about ten pictures on the 4GB memory card were deleted but recoverable.

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    Recovering Music

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    Similar to recovering photos on a camera, Search and Recover 4 can also recover deleted music on your portable music player. To recover music, just connect your music player and select Recover Deleted Songs and Sounds. Search and Recover 4 will see your connected device and look for music that it can undelete.

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    Main ScreenRecover deleted pictures on your cameraRecover deleted songs on your portable music playerSmartScan filters out system temporary filesList of possible files to recoverOrphaned Files and other hidden directoriesPreview Mode
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    Suggested Features

    One option I'd like is to have an Explorer-like treeview where I could browse around the drive for folder I know I want to inspect. Some of the other undelete software packages have this feature and it is a nice way to narrow down the areas to look. For example let's say I delete a Word document in My Documents directory. Instead of searching through 1600 found files, I could just look in the My Documents for undelete candidates.
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    If you've ever worked in the help desk department you know one of the most common calls, after "I just spilled a cup of coffee on my keyboard," is "I accidentally deleted a file, can you help me get it back?" iolo's Search and Recover 4 provides a way to quickly recover deleted files.

    Whether you're doing data forensics for law enforcement or simply need to recover a file you accidentally deleted, Search and Recover 4 does the job and does the job well.

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    Related Products

    GetData Recover My Files, Symantec Norton Save & Restore